13. Adapting Creative Commons-Licensed Resources | Guide

Anita R. Walz

Learning Objectives

Learners should be able to:

  • Articulate the value of adapting learning resources.
  • Make informed and user-centric decisions regarding what software to use.
  • Demonstrate how to adapt an openly-licensed resource.
  • Demonstrate how to correctly attribute adaptation of a Creative Commons licensed work.


  • Practice and demonstrate your knowledge by creating an informal, short, narrated video (under 5 minutes) or slide show with script (6 or fewer slides) of you adapting an openly-licensed resource in a software with which you are already familiar. Your video or slide deck should clearly mention each of the steps listed below in “Steps to Adapt.”
  • With a partner acting as a PreK-12 teacher and you acting as a consultant from higher education, practice and demonstrate the process described above by actually adapting an openly-licensed resource. Switch roles and repeat. Write a 2-page reflection on your interpersonal and process-oriented approaches to the assignment. What questions or additional needs for learning did these interactions raise?

Adaptation Guide

As a faculty member, graduate student, undergraduate student, librarian, or instructional designer you may be asked to demonstrate how to adapt existing openly-licensed materials for classroom use and re-sharing under the same license. Many teachers will already know parts of this process, but might not have experience with how all of the pieces fit together. This guide describes rationale and steps for adaptation. The assignment at the end of the guide provides practice for demonstrating how to accomplish these steps.

Why adapt?

Teachers generally want to scaffold learning in their courses to fit their specific learners’ needs. Reading or comprehension levels may differ from class to class. Teachers may also wish to adjust materials to fit multiple languages, audiences, or differences in local characteristics.

Why share back?

Sharing your changes and improvements back to the community in a way that people can find them is a powerful way to contribute back to other educators. Your improvements and changes may be just what someone else is looking for!

Documenting Changes and License Requirements

Other teachers who are considering using your work benefit when you include a summary of what you changed. This is helpful for them in differentiating between versions that may otherwise appear relatively similar. Documentation that changes were made is also required by the license if you are modifying a Creative Commons licensed work. See “Giving Credit” below for more details. Also note that CC licenses marked as “no derivatives” do not allow sharing of “derivative” or modified works.

The human-readable and legal versions of Creative Commons licenses are available here.[1]

Technology for Editing and Sharing

A teacher must have: (1) access and (2) either already know how to use the software or be able to quickly and easily learn it. The best technologies for editing and making openly-licensed files available are those which will actually be used. Consider that teachers may have a range of technological facility and comfort levels depending on their training and subject area. Schools and school districts may also influence whether use of a learning management system (LMS) is mandated or not. (Most LMS will import SCORM-compliant or thin-Common Cartridge files, and OER Commons allows such files to be attached to OER within their system.) Other districts or schools may lack an LMS and rely on word processing software or photocopying. Choose to work in software that will support the project and be usable for the people involved.

A few options in no particular order include: MSWord, LibreOffice, GoogleDocs, OER Commons OpenAuthor[2] (overview[3]), Merlot’s Content Builder[4], LMS software such as Moodle, Canvas, etc., or code or typesetting languages such as HTML or LaTeX.

Naming Conventions and Metadata

Documents with metadata and a standardized naming convention are easier to contextualize and retrieve. Ensure that metadata appropriate to the file type you are creating or adapting has a descriptive file name, and even the most basic metadata (author, date, copyright statement, etc.) on it. If the software in which you are working provides metadata fields, use them!

Giving Credit

All Creative Commons licenses require that you attribute the original source and provide four specific pieces of information. This may be done in a variety of ways. It is preferable to include this information on the actual document rather than only in the metadata of the system which hosts the document. This information is brief and commonly included in the “references” or “fine print.” It must include the following elements, according to the acronym TASL:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Source (URL)
  • License

Example: © Juanita Rivera. Hola amigos. CC BY NC-SA 4.0

You must also indicate if you made any changes.

For example: Angelica Juarez CC BY NC-SA 4.0. Adapted from © Juanita Rivera. Hola amigos. CC BY NC-SA 4.0 (Replaced three photos)

Recommended Resource

Best practices for attribution of Creative Commons-licensed materials[5] is available online.

Steps to Adapt

  1. Evaluate the overall file.
    • What Creative Commons license does it currently have?
      • Confirm that the material to adapt has an overall license that allows adaptation and resharing. These licenses include CC BY, CC BY NC, CC BY SA, CC BY NC SA. (Materials without a license, or those with a CC BY NC-ND or CC BY NC-ND do not permit adaptation and resharing.)
    • In what format(s) is it available (and can you easily edit it in that format or pull it into your desired format)?
      • Obtain editable source files if at all possible. PDF editing does not enable text to flow across pages, thus limiting one’s ability to make major changes. It also requires special software (Adobe Acrobat DC).
  2. Identify changes you wish to make.
    • Consider adding your own original language and illustrations
    • Consider adding excerpts or images with open licenses from others
      • If you wish to incorporate already-licensed materials (such as photos) examine whether their license is compatible with the overall license of the main work.
        1. A helpful chart on license compatibility[6] is available online
  3. Make your changes
  4. Cite (and attribute) the items you added to the work. Add your name as the adapter and re-release under the same overall license if the license of the base material is a “SA” (ShareAlike) license (e.g., Angelica Juarez CC BY NC SA. Adapted from © Juanita Rivera. Hola! CC BY NC SA 4.0. Added photo of native flowers by Angelico CC BY 4.0). Use best practices for attribution of Creative Commons-licensed materials[7] to ensure that all attributions have all of the requirement elements.
  5. If you are sharing in a place such as OERCommons, include a few short sentences in the abstract that differentiates your work from the one you adapted.
  6. Share your openly-licensed source files and finished files back to the community

Additional Platform-Specific Guidance

  1. Creative Commons. [n.d.]. Licenses list. https://creativecommons.org/licenses
  2. OER Commons. (2019). Create a resource with Open Author. https://help.oercommons.org/support/solutions/articles/42000067049-create-a-resource-with-open-author
  3. OER Commons. [n.d.]. Creating with Open Author. https://www.oercommons.org/authoring-overview
  4. MERLOT. [n.d.] Welcome to Content Builder. https://info.merlot.org/merlothelp/Content_Builder_Welcome.htm
  5. Creative Commons. (2022). Best practices for attribution. https://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Best_practices_for_attribution
  6. Creative Commons. (2013). Wiki/cc license compatability. https://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Wiki/cc_license_compatibility
  7. Creative Commons. (2022). Best practices for attribution. https://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Best_practices_for_attribution


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Making Open Educational Resources with and for PreK12 Copyright © 2023 by Anita R. Walz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.