12 Adapting and Remixing OER


The term adaptation is commonly used to describe the process of making changes to an existing work. We can also replace “adapt” with revise, modify, alter, customise, remix, or other synonyms that describe the act of making a change.

When it comes to working with open textbooks (and open educational resources in general), one of the conceptual hurdles faced by most people is around the notion of adapting or changing someone’s work. What exactly can be adapted within the scope of an open resource? Won’t the original author get upset if you change their work?

Changing someone’s work can feel uncomfortable. But rest assured, if the author has released their work under a Creative Commons licence that allows for adaptation (which is any Creative Commons licence except the No Derivatives (ND)[1] licence), then they expect that you will change the content, providing you give them the proper attribution. Using information and media from an open textbook or other open educational resource is not considered plagiarism.

Adaptation of an OER is possible where the copyright holder has already granted permission by releasing their work using certain open — or Creative Commons—licences as outlined in chapter 2.

Determine reasons for adapting an OER

When you use an openly licenced textbook or other open educational resource, you are free to adapt it to fit your learners’ needs. In other words, you can adjust the resource to fit your course curriculum, not the other way round. Other reasons for revising an existing open work might be to:

  • Address a particular teaching style or learning style
  • Adjust for a different course or program
  • Adapt for a different discipline
  • Accommodate a different learning environment
  • Address diversity needs
  • Meet a cultural preference
  • Meet a regional or national preference
  • Make the material more accessible for people with disabilities
  • Add material contributed by students or material suggested by students
  • Translate the material into another language
  • Correct errors or inaccuracies
  • Update the book with current information
  • Add more media or links to other resources
  • Use only a portion of the book for a course[2]

When you have decided to adapt an OER, you need to make sure it is suitable for your needs. Here are a few steps you might take when evaluating an OER. If this process seems lengthy, think about the process you follow to review textbooks and other materials in your course. You can use a similar or modified evaluation process.

  1. The content under consideration covers the subject area appropriately
  2. The content of the OER is accurate and free of major errors and spelling mistakes
  3. An understanding of Creative Commons licence types will determine how content can be used or altered for course needs
  4. The OER is clearly written and appropriate for the students’ level of understanding
  5. The accessibility of the content is appropriate for all students[3]
See Evaluating the quality of OER for more information and rubrics.

Adapting an OER with correct attribution and licencing

Adapting an OER can allow for a wide range of possibilities as the number, variety, and quality of OER available is such that any educator should be able to find resources they can readily (with or without modification) use within their classroom. Adapting existing OER will almost always be more efficient than creating teaching materials from scratch.[4]

What can you change?

Anything and everything in an open textbook or resource can be changed if the conditions of the open licence are met.[5] There are many resources including this work that can help you adapt an existing OER. Always ensure you check the licence on a resource before you start adapting it. Outlined below are some points covering attribution and licencing to consider when looking to adapt an open resource. 

Licences and permissions

Works online are often protected by copyright, but you can potentially adapt, modify, and reuse existing online content by looking out for Creative Commons licensed material.

Works that fall within the public domain can also be adopted and reused without infringing copyright. See Distinguish Between Materials That Are All Rights Reserved In The Public Domain And Openly Licensed.

If you want to use materials that are not released under a Creative Commons licence or in the public domain, then you can try obtaining written permission from the copyright holder to use the material in your resource; be mindful that copyright holders may not approve the re-licensing of their works under a Creative Commons licence, or they may charge for the use.

Written permission can be as simple as an email from the copyright owner confirming that you are allowed to use the material in the way you intend. When seeking permission, you need to make it clear that your resulting work will be licensed under a Creative Commons licence, you also need to ensure you provide the original copyright holder all necessary information to make an informed decision in granting permission. This would normally include how you intend to use the work, any changes or adaptions you intend to make, and the terms of the Creative Commons licence you will licence your work under.[6] 

If permission is granted by a third party to use their material in your OER, but not licence their contribution as Creative Commons, you will need to ensure that it is clearly marked and it has been included with the permission of the rightsholder. The content should be labelled as “Reproduced with Permission” with the rightsholder’s preferred attribution style included. This will assist users downstream who wish to adapt your work by making it clear that the material in question is NOT Creative Commons.


There are many different places where you can search for openly licensed material [7] including open images to use in your OER. Additionally, Google images allows you to filter results by Creative Commons licence if you select Tools > Usage Rights. When gathering images, keep track of attribution information to make creating front and back matter[8] pages easier. Also, make sure that any images conform to accessibility guidelines.

See Accessibility  for more information.

When searching for videos, you can identify Creative Commons content by using filters. For example,  you can filter your YouTube search to include videos with a Creative Commons licence or search within specific open educational resource repositories. Before using a video, you need to review the content for potential infringement – refer to the Australian Copyright Council’s guidelines on Video Uploads & Copyright.[9]

  1. Creative Commons. (n.d.). Attibution-NoDerivatives 4.0 international. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/legalcode CC BY 4.0
  2. BCcampus. (2021). Reasons to adapt an open textbook. https://opentextbc.ca/adaptopentextbook/chapter/reasons-adapt/CC BY 4.0
  3. Elder, A. (2022). Evaluate OER. https://instr.iastate.libguides.com/oer/evaluate CC BY 4.0
  4. Moist, S. (2017). Adopt/adapt vs creation. https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/facultyoertoolkit/chapter/adopt-adapt-vs-creation/ CC BY 4.0
  5. Aesoph, L. M. (2016). Adaptation guide. https://opentextbc.ca/adaptopentextbook/chapter/permission-to-adapt/  CC BY 4.0
  6. Smartcopying. (2021). Permissions. https://smartcopying.edu.au/guidelines/permissions-and-consents/permissions/ CC BY 4.0
  7. RMIT University Library. (2021). Copyright guide. https://rmit.libguides.com/copyright/free_stuff
  8. University of British Columbia. (2021). Documentation: Open textbook publishing guide/textbook outline. https://wiki.ubc.ca/Documentation:Open_Textbook_Publishing_Guide/Textbook_Outline
  9. Australian Copyright Council. (2019). Video uploads & copyright: YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook etc. https://www.copyright.org.au/browse/book/ACC-Video-Uploads-&-Copyright:-YouTube,-Vimeo,-Facebook-etc.-INFO117


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OER Capability Toolkit Copyright © 2022 by RMIT University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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