Open, Textbooks

Introduction to Sociology: An Open Textbook Adaptation Story

One of the promises and potentials of open textbooks that has always intrigued me the most is the ability to customize and adapt the book, enabled by open licenses. To me, this is a powerful pedagogical tool that, in the right hands and used effectively, can contribute to better student learning outcomes as some research suggests*.

When the opportunity to work on the BC Open Textbook Project came up, I made a conscious effort to try to promote adaptation over creation of new resources and try to work on how adaptations might work beyond the theoretical promise. This is why our first funded projects were adaptation projects of existing open textbooks.

Here is one of the adaptation projects that, I think, shows how open licenses combined with some fairly informal connections can lead to a type of autonomous collaboration (oxymoron?) to create customized learning resources from a single root source.

OpenStax Introduction to Sociology

Our first adaptation project was released earlier this week, Introduction to Sociology: 1st Canadian Edition. The original Introduction to Sociology textbook was released by OpenStax College. We added it to our collection and solicited reviews from BC faculty on the book. From these reviews, we determined that the book needed to be revised to fit our local (Canadian) context.  Some comments from the reviews:

This is a text that I would use, if it was adapted to the Canadian context. It is very clear and understandable, and all of the sections lend themselves well to illustrations, discussions, and other activities. So, while I do like the text, the issue of using a text with American content in a Canadian college course is very problematic.


a) The context is American: Substitute the American context with a Canadian context.
b) There is no single “feminist theory”. Therefore this textbook defining and applying the feminist paradigm as “feminist conflict theory” or simply “feminist theory” limits the contributions of the feminist paradigm to the development of sociology.

From these reviews, we developed a call for proposals to adapt the textbook based, in part, on these reviews. Dr. Bill Little (University of Victoria & Thompson Rivers University) with Ron McGivern (TRU) undertook the adaptation process. Dr. Little was our first textbook adapter and lived on the bleeding edge. This was no small undertaking. You can see for yourself all the changes made in the adapated textbook, but here is a small sampling to show you the type of work that went into this revision. These are the changes made to a single chapter (of the 21 chapter book).

Chapter 1

  • Figure 1.1 changed
  • Added new figure 1.2
  • Added figures 1.5, 1.8, 1.9, 1.10, 1.11, 1.15
  • Added information about Vancouver hockey riots
  • Enhanced definition of Sociology with Dorothy Smith reference
  • Enhanced and expanded  with micro- and macro- definitions
  • Enhanced and expanded section on to include reference to C. Wright Mills, obesity rates in Canada.
  • Added information about rectification
  • Removed information about U.S. housing crisis and Food Stamp Use in the U.S.
  • Added in reference to CBC program The Current and information about aboriginal incarceration rates  in Canada
  • Removed title Studying Part and Whole and merged with Studying Patterns section
  • Removed reference to the practice of religion
  • Removed section on Individual- Society Connections
  • Enhanced section on Greek philosophy
  • Enhanced section on Eastern philosophy to expand section on Khaldun
  • Enhanced section on 19th century sociology to include contributions to discipline by Mac Weber and feminist contributions by Mary Wollstone.
  • Enhanced and expanded Comte section
  • Renamed, expanded and enhanced section on Karl Marx
  • Broke apart the Creating a Discipline section and added separate and expanded biographical sections for Harriet Martineau, Emile Durkheim, Max Webber, and Georg Simmel
  • Expanded Working Moms section and replaced American references with Canadian
  • Rewrote and expanded the section to include Positivism and Quantitative Sociology
  • Expanded Structural Functionalism and criticism of sections
  • Added Interpretative Sociology, Historical Materialism, Feminism & criticisms of each
  • Added Farming & Locavores case study
  • Removed Conflict Theory
  • Replaced Elizabeth Eckford introductory example with Canadian health care system example.
  • Rewrote and expanded introduction to include reference to feminist movement and aboriginal perspectives.
  • Expanded the “Please Friend Me” to include data on smartphone use
  • Updated Key Terms, Section Summary, Quiz, Further Research and References to reflect new chapter content

You can see the amount of work that Bill, Ron and the entire project team put into adapting this book to make something that was more regionally relevant to Canadian faculty. But as a result, we now have a Canadian edition of an OpenStax textbook.

During this adaptation process, I kept in sporadic touch with David Harris at OpenStax, informing him of the progress of the adaptation. I worked together with David to devise the copyright and Creative Commons attribution statements to satisfy the CC licensing requirements, which ended up reading like this:

Unless otherwise noted, Introduction to Sociology is © 2013 Rice University. The textbook content was produced by OpenStax College and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License, except for the following changes and additions, which are © 2014 William Little and Ron McGivern, and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Changes to this book, as a whole, were made to achieve the following goals.

  1. Replace U.S.-centric content with Canadian content. This included examples, case studies, significant figures, perspectives and, more pragmatically, spelling, idioms, measurements and grammatical structure and style.
  2. Add feminist theory and feminist perspectives throughout the text.
  3. Add Canadian aboriginal perspectives and content.

Key Terms, Section Summary, Quiz, Further Research, and References in each chapter have been updated to reflect new chapter content.

For a detailed list of the changes and additions made to this book, see “1st Canadian Edition Changes”.

Under the terms of the CC-BY license, you are free to copy, redistribute, modify or adapt this book as long as you provide attribution. Additionally, if you redistribute this textbook, in whole or in part, in either a print or digital format, then you must retain on every physical and/or electronic page the following attribution:

Download this book for free at

For questions regarding this license, please contact To learn more about the B.C. Open Textbook project, visit

You can scroll to the bottom of this page to see the final wording of the CC licensing statement we came up with in context.

Our Adaptations become part of next OpenStax edition

While our book was being edited and finalized, I sent a draft copy to David and the OpenStax team so they were aware of the changes we were making. It was at this time that David informed me that OpenStax was working on a second edition of the Introduction to Sociology book, so they were very interested in the changes we were making to the content. It is now looking like some of the changes we have made will find themselves into the next OpenStax edition of the textbook.

Adaptations building upon adaptations. Revisions building upon revisions. This is what is supposed to happen. This is the power of open licenses in action. Now, this is still not at the granular level of, say, a department modifying the book to meet the specific needs of their students, as was the case with the Houston Community College example (and which is where I would like to see our book go next – into departments). But this adaptation does illustrate how two projects working collaboratively, yet independently, can both benefit from open licenses at a more macro, system wide level.

So often when talking about adopting OER’s the conversation seems to focus on the single faculty who undertakes these types of projects on their own. The lone wolf. And there are certainly great examples of that kind of adaptation and authoring of open textbooks. But I think those types of adaptations are few and far between. Open wins cam also come from collaborative projects where groups of faculty combined with support structures in place work together to adapt and modify OER’s.

Our authors have never met the original authors of the OpenStax books, and vice versa. Yet they have, in effect, asynchronously and somewhat autonomously, collaborated with each other to create multiple resources based on a single shared resource with the OpenStax project team and the BC Open Textbook project team acting as mediators. Autonomous mediated collaboration. Is that even a thing?

To me, this type of collaboration connects deeply with the spirit of what OER were designed to do. You take my stuff, change it to work for you. Oh, you want it back? Sure. Here it is. Use the new stuff if you want. This is the spirit of open and, as a result, both of our projects and the students & faculty we serve, are benefiting.

* I should clarify with this example from Houston Community College that I think the improvement in learning outcomes occurs not just because the faculty used an open textbook & replaced it with an open one, but because faculty in the department full exploited the potential of the open license to customize the book to meet the specific learning needs of their students. It’s not just an open textbook that contributed to better learning outcomes, but an open textbook combined with faculty who took full advantage of the open license to customize the learning resource that, I think, made the difference in learning outcomes.

CC BY 4.0 Introduction to Sociology: An Open Textbook Adaptation Story by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


  1. __Thanks for an excellent description of this adaption, Clint, and also for pointing out that improvements in learning outcomes in a course can be the result where the Professor has contributed to the development of customized teaching resources that best suit their pedagogy _ Those curious about Houston Community College’s project can find more information in this post by John Hilton_ _

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