7.2: Post-Release & Adoptions Overview

Congratulations — you’ve released your OER and that is no easy feat! We hope you and your teams have been able to celebrate the impressive process of creating (or remixing) an OER.

You’ve also made it to the final stage of the publishing process! As shown in the image below, if you were to continue along the cycle, you’ll end up in Project Scoping, which is where you started your journey. The Adoptions and Post-release phase is an exciting one — continuing on from the celebrations of release planning — as you determine how your OER is being used, what impact it is having, and how to share this more widely. This insight can sometimes act as a spark for ways to revise, update, or improve your OER, which you can scope and continue to work on as the cycle indicates.

Graphic describing the cyclical nature of the 7 steps of the publishing process. Beginning with Project Scoping on the left side of the circle, clockwise: Storytelling & Communications, Growing & Managing Teams, Creating & Editing Content, Feedback & Review, Preparing for Release, Adoptions & Post-Release.
Fig 7.1: An overview of the Rebus publishing process.

Once your OER is released, it’s understandable that you would want to savour the moment, to enjoy the resource’s existence in the world and to celebrate having completed a huge piece of work! Nonetheless, while the bulk of your efforts are complete, it’s important to remember that maintaining the book is important — to ensure its ongoing relevance and continued adoption.

This leads to one of the biggest questions that often gets missed in the publishing process: what is the workflow to enrich future versions of your resource?

This part of The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) will take you through your OER’s journey following its Big Release — what happens when it is used in the classroom? How do you keep it up-to-date so it stays relevant going forward? There are many possibilities for adaptation and growth that your OER allows and this will feed back into the community around the resource.

OER Improvements & Maintenance

We like to think of OER as living documents, which only tend to change and evolve over time in order to better respond to the needs of you and others who are using it. In creating OER, we hold a shared responsibility to make sure we are responsive to feedback, mindful of further accessibility improvements needed, paying attention to changes needed based on evolving conversations in the discipline and more. It’s important for educational materials to stay current — be it in terms of form or content!

Maintaining an OER doesn’t need to be a complicated matter. As we see it, maintenance includes ongoing changes that are more about function than content, made at any point, during the academic year. This entails keeping tabs on the book with an eye to grammatical errors, typos, or broken links. You may also choose to track and respond to any error reports that readers and adopters of the book have submitted (including thanking them for their keen eyes, and perhaps asking if they want to get involved with other improvements!)

OER, regardless of whether they are web-based or printed, need some amount of editorial attention to remain valuable resources. If your resource is hosted on the web, part of the maintenance process should involve ensuring that it is still accessible in its web format along with other offline and editable formats. And to ensure maximum distribution, find out if any new OER repositories have been created since the book’s initial release, and then make sure you submit it for inclusion there.

A resource that is not improved, updated, and maintained can be perceived as being ‘too old’ and ‘out-of-date’ very quickly and therefore not seriously considered as an option by educators seeking course materials. In a way, a book’s usefulness can depend on the amount of attention that it receives – as people see news of updates, changes, or improvements to the book, they will be more likely to peruse the book and use it in their course!

Further down, we get into more detail about the timing, order, and significance of different types of maintenance revisions.

Timing and process

Depending on the extent of improvements, additions, and updates to be made, they will need to be carried out at different times after release. A major concern, therefore, is the impact that making changes during the school year will have on students and teachers who are using the OER in their courses. This includes the changes made to different formats of the resource too, as students will be accessing the OER in a variety of ways (on the web, in other digital formats like EPUB, PDF, MOBI, and as printed copies).

The upshot is that small-scale “maintenance” changes (correcting typos, broken links, etc.) are the only type of revisions we advise making during the academic year, ideally to the web-based version of the resource only. Changes to the print version and other formats may need to wait for a pause in the academic year or until year-end, depending on how the in- school time is organized in your region — this is mainly to avoid students from having to purchase or set up multiple versions of the resource during a single course. Each maintenance change does not need to be marked as a new edition of the OER, nor does it necessarily require comprehensive tracking in the Version History. We do recommend, however, that error reports and corrections be listed publicly, so readers can see what those changes are and note them in their teaching and learning contexts, as well as avoid submitting duplicate error reports. Take a look at some example errata lists from OpenStax, along with examples of how to share these lists in printed PDF formats, and some inspirations for the errata form itself.

For larger improvements and updates, we suggest that you first parse and process the extent of the changes needed, and then plan out a timeline to do so. Some changes may be easier or harder to implement, or require less or more participation from the team. As you’re deciding on your tasks and timeline, also think through who will make these changes and assign the right people to them. The scale of changes, from classroom feedback to significant additions planned by the team, will determine whether a new edition or a new version of the book will need to be released (more on this below). The important thing is to be responsive to adopters, readers, and other scholars, and clearly surface the changes that you are making to the text in the version history.

When significant changes have been made and there is a new version or edition of your resource, inform all of its known adopters before replacing the old format of the OER. And if possible, inform everyone of the specific updates, additions, corrections that have been made— either by pointing to the Version History, or to a list of improvements (if it is a new edition). See an example of this in Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Larger changes can consist of:

  • qualitative improvements to existing content
  • quantitative additions to existing content
  • disciplinary or thematic updates

Following adoption of the OER in classrooms, you are bound to receive different forms of constructive feedback regarding the content. For instance, you may have been told that a particular unit has proven to be very difficult for students to understand, or that specific elements like case studies, exercises, or references are not as clear as they should be.

These constitute opportunities for improving those parts of the resource, which should be done during this phase in the OER’s life-cycle. Improvements can also be implemented based on feedback from reviewers—those issues that were not addressed during the initial creation of the resource. It’s also critical in this phase to revisit and resolve outstanding accessibility issues, as well as new ones that have been identified as the OER has been used.

During this stage, you can also make additions to the content. These may include elements that were initially planned for inclusion but didn’t make it into the first release, suggestions from reviewers, proposals from adopters, and ideas you and your team came up with post-release. Additions can also come in the form of ancillary materials, like slide decks, question banks, exercises, and other supplementary content.

The last category of revisions are those that become relevant due to changes within the OER’s discipline or subject area, or in response to real-world changes that provide new or improved examples of theoretical concepts. These types of revisions highlight how OER can be responsive to wider changes in theory, discourse, and practice. For this part of the process, pay attention to these larger themes, including examples, case studies, language and terminology, methodologies that are cited, resource lists, and literature reviews.

All of these changes should be included in the resource’s Version History, which serves as a record of the various changes, edits, additions, and updates that are made over time. Take a look at our version history template and adapt it as needed for your book. This form doesn’t need to be overly complicated at all – the purpose of this backmatter section is to inform current and potential adopters about how your OER has evolved over time.

Editions and versions

The differences between a new version of a textbook and a new edition of a textbook bear clarification. As we think of it, a new version contains only minor changes – maintenance and smaller-scale improvements to the existing content. A new edition of the book incorporates major changes to content, such as additions and updates to the original release.

New versions of an OER are usually indicated by point increments (e.g., 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, …), while new editions are indicated by whole number increases (e.g., 1st edition, 2nd edition, 3rd edition, …) The release of a new edition is a time to rally more attention within and beyond your community, and perhaps some promotional efforts as well. If this is the case, do so strategically, and only if the revisions merit it. If there have only been subtle changes and updates, it may not warrant extensive promotion.

Releases of new editions can sometimes be disruptive, especially if they happen frequently (every year, for instance), as students might be working with older physical copies of the book that are more easily available and/ or affordable. While one of the many advantages of publishing openly is the flexibility and ease of making changes, it is still important to be considerate towards ongoing users of the book, bearing in mind the impact that changes will have on them.

If you are working on a new edition of your OER, be public about it, and communicate in advance with your team and adopters about the expected changes and updates. Doing so lets them know what is coming, and may even motivate some people to help you make these improvements. Once the changes have been completed, reach out and update everyone, pointing to the new edition and Version History that clearly outlines updates you have made.

Who makes these changes?

As we’ve seen so far, there’s a lot that you can do to maintain and improve on your already carefully crafted open textbook! The main thing to keep in mind is that all these improvements do not need to be made by you alone. In fact, it probably won’t and can’t all be done by you – and that’s a good thing. Part of what makes creating OER important is the community building that goes hand in hand. This doesn’t stop with the OER’s release, but continues during improvements and maintenance. Keep gathering people around the book during this phase, from adopters to adapters, so that both the book and the community can grow with time!

The first source of help for maintenance and improvements is the team and collaborators who were involved in creating the resource. Reach out to them as needs arise, and you may be surprised at their response! You can also reach out to the people who are using the OER – adopters may well be very motivated to help make changes, as they are the ones who directly benefit from improvements to the book.

Simply put, any individual, institution, or organization invested in the value of the resource has an incentive to contribute to maintaining it and keeping it up- to-date in the long term. Depending on the type of project or work that is being done to improve or add to the book, you may even find funders willing to invest financially, or others who can secure budgets through institutional, local, or state grants.

For this to happen, it is vital that you have clear communications pathways set up from your book and its ancillaries. That way, anyone who is interested in contributing in some way knows how to contact you or another team member. And if you find that you need to step away from the project at some point, make sure you’ve identified and involved someone else to take over or manage things in the interim. Look to your leadership team for this, because there will likely be someone who is eager and willing to take on the mantle.

And lastly, do what you can to be public about the status of the OER, of other projects, and of changes, even if it’s in the form of a short notice in the book or in your team’s public discussion space. Leave the possibilities for the book open – and watch eagerly how they unfurl!

Your OER can live on

So far, we’ve only addressed updates and improvements to the core OER, but there are other ways in which you may like to expand on your OER. Ancillary materials like slide decks, question banks, instructor manuals, and student workbooks can supplement your resource and make it a more appealing package for adopters. You can begin work on these projects following the book’s release, or if you have the resources to do so, concurrent to the OER’s production!

With the open license on your book, the different types of spinoffs are endless. For instance, translations, spelling conversions (eg.: American to British spelling), or cultural adjustments can make it accessible for use in more regions. Other adaptations, small or large, can make the text work better in different pedagogical contexts, or incorporate regionally specific content that makes it relevant to a different set of users, thus expanding the pool of readers around your book.

While adaptations mostly maintain consistency of the content, other variants like remixing can involve blending content from the book with other openly licensed content. For example, Blueprint for Success in College and Career remixes sections from four other OER: Foundations of Academic Success, A Different Road to College: A Guide for Transitioning Non-traditional Students, How to Learn Like a Pro!, and College Success.

Other ways to build on your OER is to think of new formats and media through which to share content. You could create an audiobook version of the text, a series of short videos summarizing each unit, or a poster series that creates visualizations of the content. The possibilities are endless – this is just the beginning for your OER and its impact!

Adoptions & Measuring Impact

From having your OER used in a single section of a single course to seeing an entire university department incorporate it into all their classes, “adoption” can mean a variety of things. In our framing, having a resource adopted generally means that it has been assigned, either in part or in full, as part of the materials for a given course.

In any case, adoption is often the moment that you’ve been working for — seeing the resource put to use so it can advance learning in some way. Even if you embarked on this project simply to create a resource for your own class or course, the fact that you decided to apply an open license to the book means that you’ve already been thinking of other educators and students that might benefit from your work in the long run. So, as you reach the point of releasing your book, it’s worth it to put in a bit of effort to encourage and track adoptions.

Community of practice

Everyone and anyone who is using the OER, who benefits from this content being openly licensed, is an asset. Really, what adopters signify is an expansion of your project team — a set of people who are working closely with your OER! They can offer feedback and input on the resource, and we suggest that you think of engaging this group as a community of practice.

By connecting with adopters, you can create more opportunities to gather feedback, new contributions, ideas, updates, spinoffs, ancillaries and more, and it all comes from people who are just as invested as you are in the book being maintained and improved in the long term. Each time the book is adopted, the community around it becomes larger. Making sure you can find those adopters (and they can find you!) can make all the difference in keeping a book alive over time.

You can create a mailing list comprising all the adopters of a book (to share comments, teaching tips, additional resources, and more). You can of course leverage the Rebus forum discussion space for the same purpose, or even conduct a series of regular calls with your adopters. Staying in touch with this group can help you learn more about the impact your OER is having — so it’s definitely worth taking a moment to consider how you might want to identify and engage your community of practice.

Tracking adoptions & measuring impact

As we think of the potential of OER to connect individuals, it’s also worth noting that broader adoptions of your OER demonstrate impact to institutions and administrators in a significant way. Adoptions are an especially important indicator of the value and impact of the resource you’ve created. Given the amount of time and effort you and your collaborators have put into it, seeing your book going out into the world can be incredibly validating – it’s a vote of confidence from the adopter about the content and quality of your book and the purpose driving the creation of the OER. Adoptions can be the start of a ripple effect — someone’s first foray into open education could begin with using your OER in their classroom and lead them on their own journey.

Adoption forms

As discussed in other sections of the Guide, a major portion of setting up feedback and reporting channels for adoption takes place during the release preparation. Even so, you can also start thinking about adoptions as early as content creation, editing, and review. Along the way to release, you have hopefully collected a list of people (and their email addresses!) who are interested in the OER and have shown signs of wanting to adopt it when it is ready.

Adoption forms are one of the most popular ways to collect information on how your resource is being used. Check out our Adoption Form as an example of what this form can look like (it can be modified to include more or less detail as needed). The best way to track adoptions is to ask users to self-report via the adoption form, so make sure this form is visible clearly from the OER’s home page, and that it is also in any major communications about the OER, like the official announcement. Lastly, make sure to include clear pathways for communication, so adopters know how to contact you or other folks who are using the book. This can be as simple as a link to the Rebus Community forum, your email address, or other contact information.

We’ve found that it’s best to start with a simple form, so that those responding aren’t too overwhelmed. As you get more comfortable with the group of adopters over time, you can also ask them to provide more information about how the book is being used, building on the initial questions in your Adoption Form. Find the right balance between the full information you would like to have down the line and those details that you absolutely need up front.

In the spirit of transparent and consensual data collection, it’s also important to be clear and explicit about the reasons you are collecting certain information. If possible, also tell them what you will be doing with it. For instance, if you’re using the OER in your course, you might want to get in touch with the folks on your campus who monitor information like student retention or withdrawal rates, and ask other adopters to do the same. With that kind of information collected, you can build the case for the relevance of your course, for a departmental adoption of your book, and for the increased use of OER. Telling your adopters the impact of the information that they share can help incentivize them to submit data and feel more comfortable doing so.

Another suggestion is to keep an eye out for broader OER tracking projects, like SPARC’s initiative to report USD $1 billion in student savings, and see what information might be required for these projects. Accordingly, update your own Adoption form or follow-up questions that you routinely send new adopters. You might also look at repositories that ask for adoption information, to either expand your form or find out if any adoptions of your book have been reported. For examples, see BCcampus’ Adoption Form and their Open Textbook Statistics page.

Use whatever information you have available, whether it is data reported by adopters in the form, statistics from your institutional repository, statistics from other repositories, analytics from Pressbooks (or wherever your OER is hosted), etc. In so doing, however, don’t forget to also listen to adopter and student feedback about the resource’s content and structure. We have an entire section about improving your textbook, which includes what you can do with the feedback you receive. Ultimately, because tracking OER adoptions can’t rely on the more conventional metric of unit sales, it will always be an issue of thinking creatively and paying attention to alternative forms and types of usage data.

Following the big release, keep the noise and momentum around the OER going by talking it up within your network, at conferences, and ask other members on your team and staff at your campus to do the same! Keep your resource’s unique selling points in mind during these conversations, and also point to any additional items that could be packaged along with the OER (such as slide decks, question banks, instructor workbooks, or other ancillaries) to motivate and attract people to adopt your book. Remember, the larger the group of people who know about your OER, the higher the possibility of reported adoptions.

Measuring impact beyond savings

Given the care and thought to bring a student-centered and equity-based approach to OER creation, are there also ways to carry this forward to look at other measures of assessing student “success” beyond grades? For instance, do you want to know if your students are more motivated, persistent, appreciate collaboration or are more self-directed? We encourage you to to think deeply about non-traditional measures around student success. It’s important to think beyond the cumulative student savings numbers we often see shared. At this point, it is worth revisiting your Measures of Success (in your Project Scoping Summary) to see whether there is other information to gather to assess whether your OER is reaching its goals! How can you dig deeper to understand the impact of your OER? One major area to gain further insight into your OER is by listening to the input of students and teachers.

There are many ways your resource may be positively changing the teaching and learning experience of students. Surveys can assess these behaviours prior to using the OER and following. Ask your adopter community to offer lots of opportunities for feedback and reflection, even if not in the form of a survey! As we noted, OER adoption is often in tandem with other open educational practices, so you may also ask your adopters to keep track of any open pedagogy assignments used in the classroom and the impact it has had on students (a memorandum of understanding can be especially useful for these kinds of assignments). You can also ask adopters to keep track of general trends pertaining to course completion/graduation, or traditional performance metrics.

You could use this period of data collection to make visible the teaching and learning that happens with the resource. See whether the adopter community would be interested in presenting about their experiences teaching with this OER, and whether this has sparked new conversations for them about open education.

As you’re seeing so far, there are a myriad of ways to determine how “efficient” or “impactful” your OER is — and this tends to vary in the eyes of the beholder! Measuring impact can involve connecting with adopters, creating technical infrastructure to gather data, or communications work to share this information. This is not something that can lie with just the faculty member teaching with the OER — rather, it is a collective effort.

The information you are gathering about your OER after release is an exciting period to show the support that the community has towards the OER and to see your hard work pay off. What started out as your project team in the scoping phase turns into something larger, so we want you to do more with this data!

Sharing impact stories

So what do you do with all this information?

The data you collect about adoptions is a powerful tool to make the case for OER, as it demonstrates the direct impact on students. This helps make the case for increased institutional investment in the creation of new OER and to the maintenance and further adoption of existing resources.

Reporting can serve multiple purposes. Once you’ve collected feedback on your resource, it’s likely that you’ll use it to inform updates as we discussed earlier. But it’s also vital to share back your findings with key stakeholders. The work that you’ve done to create and use your OER can help further the cause for making education more accessible and equitable. You can use your findings to create new calls to action (for more adoptions, new grants, etc.). You can use this as a moment to highlight the people, process, and work, foster community, or simply support contributors in advancing their careers by helping them include this project in their Tenure and Promotion dossier. This OER could encourage innovation in the field, make a case for more funding in open education in your discipline/at your institution.

The impact you report could potentially also support a broader call for change in policy/legislation — to make education more affordable, reduce the digital divide, ensure equal opportunity for all students, support fair compensation for educators, etc. This can take many forms, but what matters here is to continue the storytelling process. The work that you’ve done matters, so make it visible. Through adoption data and more, as discussed today, you can proudly demonstrate the benefit of collaboration, as well as the power of education to help and bring us all together!


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The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) Copyright © 2019 by Apurva Ashok; Zoe Wake Hyde; and Kaitlin Schilling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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