6 Steps to modifying an Open Textbook

Once you have made the decision to adopt an open textbook, you may wish to modify or adapt that textbook to fit your specific needs.
How easy or difficult this will be depends on a number of factors, including;

  • How much content do you wish to change? Do you want to remove chapters, or rewrite entire chapters of content?
  • What technical format is the original textbook in? A Word document is much easier to modify than a PDF document.
  • What type of license is the content released under? Does it have a Creative Commons license that allows for modification or adaptation of the content?
  • How comfortable are you with using technology and creating content?

Here are some steps to consider before modifying or adapting an existing textbook.

Some General Considerations

  • Whatever tools you choose to work with, remember that students prefer format flexibility with their textbook. For the BC open textbook project, each book modified or created will be made available in PDF, ePub and HTML (website) formats. If you use a tool that does not output those formats by default, you will need to find additional conversion tools to convert your final textbook to those formats.
  • If you wish to edit or create graphics, images, charts, and/or multimedia content, you will need to use additional, specialized tools to create those beyond the tools listed here. The tools listed here are primarily designed to modify text or (in the case of LaTeX) scientific or mathematical formulas.
  • Keep it simple is a good rule of thumb, especially if you are approaching a remix project for the first time. While it may be tempting to make a number of major changes to a textbook before releasing it to your students, think of the textbook as a living resource that you can improve incrementally over time.

Step 1: Check the license

First, check the license to make sure you have the permission to modify the contents. As long as the Creative Commons license does not have a No Derivatives clause, you are able to change the contents of the book. See Creative Commons for more information on licenses.
For the BC Open Textbook project, we do not recommend textbooks that contain the No Derivatives license restriction.
If you are unsure as to the license, please contact us for assistance.

Step 2: The format of the textbook

If you wish to adapt an open textbook, you need to be able to have the textbook in a technical format that you can work with. This usually means the original source files used to create the textbook.
Common source formats for open textbooks that you should look for are:

  • HTML files (webpages)
  • Word or OpenOffice documents
  • Text files
  • ePub
  • LaTex files (if the original book includes math or science formulas and equations).

What tools you will use to create your version of the textbook will depend greatly on what format you find the original textbook in and what you feel comfortable working with.
Avoid PDF documents.
It is common that open textbooks may only be available as a PDF document. PDF documents are not editable. If you want to modify an open textbook that is only available in PDF format, you will need to convert the PDF document to one of the formats above.
Before you consider converting a PDF version of the textbook, you should contact the original author and asking for a copy of the textbook source files. Converting a PDF document to an editable format is a difficult, time consuming and imprecise process.

Step 3: Tools for editing an open textbook

Once you have a source format that you can edit, you can then begin to modify the textbook. What tools you will use to do this will depend greatly on what editable format you are working with, and your comfort level with working with that format.
One of the tools we are recommending for the open textbook project is PressBooks. PressBooks is a web-based authoring tool based on the popular WordPress authoring platform. Working in PressBooks is similar to working within a Learning Management Systems like Moodle or Desire2Learn.
You can import a number of different formats into PressBooks for editing, including Word, ePub and HTML. PressBooks will output the textbook as a mobile-friendly website, an ePub document (for use in e-readers), and PDF (for printing).
For the BC open textbook project, we are using a self hosted installation of PressBooks, but you can try out PressBooks for free using their hosted service.
Other editing tools
The chart below shows you some of the tool options you have for working with the various file formats. Note that this is not an exhaustive list. You may have a tool that works for you that you wish to use to create your open textbook.

Original Format Possible Editing Tools (Web-based) Possible Editing Tools (Desktop)
Word or OpenOffice Google Docs, PressBooks Microsoft Word, OpenOffice
ePub PressBooks Sigil, Calibre
Text Google Docs, PressBooks Word, OpenOffice
LaTex  ScribeTex TeXworks, Texmaker
HTML Google Docs, PressBooks, MediaWiki Dreamweaver, MS Expression Web
OpenStax College Connexions n/a

Step 4: Choosing a license

Once you have finished creating your own version of the textbook, you should decide on which Creative Commons license you will use to license your book. This will depend a great deal on how the original textbook was licensed.
For example, if the original textbook was licensed with SA (Share Alike) license, then you must release your book with the same license as the original source material to ensure it is fully compliant with the original CC terms of use.
CC licensing at this stage can be a complicated process. For assistance, feel free to contact us for consultation on how the various CC licenses work together.

Step 5: Output

Students like flexibility when it comes to their textbooks. Some may prefer printed versions of the textbook, others will prefer using a website. Still others will like to use an e-reader or e-reading software.
To make your book as accessible as possible, consider making your textbook available in multiple formats so students have the ability to choose the format that works for them. At a minimum, the open textbook project will make textbooks available as a website (HTML),  ePub document for e-readers, and PDF document which students can print or choose to have printed via a print on demand service.

Step 6: Hosting your book (or how do my students get my textbook?)

Once you have edited your version of the textbook, you will need a place to put your textbook where your students can access it.
If you are part of the BCcampus open textbook project and have used PressBooks to create your textbook then BCcampus will provide hosting for your textbook as part of the project on the open.bccampus.ca website. Simply direct your students to the URL for your book on the open.bccampus.ca website and let them choose which format is most convenient for them.
Database Design is an example of how your open textbook would appear on the open.bccampus.ca site. This particular book is available in ePub, PDF, and mobi (Kindle) formats. Additionally, there is a link to take students to a mobile optimized website version of this textbook.
If you have chosen not to use PressBooks for your adaptation and instead have chosen to use a different platform, your book page will look similar to the Database Design page, minus the link to the website version. If you do have a website version of the book and have it hosted somewhere other than BCcampus, a link to that site can be included on the book page.