Archive for the ‘Unisa Textbooks’ Category

The new WikiStudent is now live

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

The new WikiStudent, for Unisa students, went live a couple of weeks ago. The URL:

We need Unisa students to become editors to help fill in the content - see the new site for how to join.

This blog is no longer being updated. You can browse the archives if you’re interested in how WikiStudent was re-built.

Bookshop not happening yet

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

The one drawback of using MediaWiki is that you can’t create forms and other database-driven features because the editing boxes are entirely text-based. This meant that I had to say goodbye to my Unisa second-hand bookshop, which used to store buyer and seller and book details in a database.

Then, I had the idea of creating MediaWiki tables on the module pages, where students could edit the table cells if they wanted to buy or sell a book. Here is an example:


The trouble, I found out when doing usability testing, is that the MediaWiki table syntax is very complicated, and anybody who has never edited a wiki before will be confused by

|| || || ||

and it doesn’t naturally occur to someone that you need to edit in the book details between the pipe symbols.

So, rather than make people read detailed instructions and expect them to master wiki markup for tables, I’m going to put a hold on the bookshop for now, and write a standalone bookshop in 2010, where anybody (not just WikiStudent editors) can sell their books.

How the new bookshop is going to work

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

When I decided to change the site platform from Xoops to MediaWiki, I thought it would no longer be possible to have a second-hand bookshop where students could sell their old Unisa textbooks. The old WikiStudent bookshop was custom-written in PHP and I wanted to improve on the code. The problem was I didn’t see how it could be incorporated into MediaWiki, which is editing-based (i.e. you edit pages, you don’t submit forms that get saved to a database).

But I have an idea! How’s this for a solution:


This is a normal table created in MediaWiki. If you want to sell your textbook, all you would do is fill in the cells and save the page. (You don’t even have to worry about typing the date – it gets automatically generated when you click the Signature button). When you’ve sold your book you delete your row.

Below that we could also have another table, for students requesting books (maybe nobody is selling one for that module yet, or maybe you would like to buy one at a lower price…).

To contact a seller or requester, just click on their username and see what contact information they have left in their profile.

(By the way, I don’t think we need to include columns for the ISBN or publisher as this information will be with the prescribed textbook section above the ‘bookshop’. The edition alone makes it clear which book it is).

The first extension has been installed :)

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Out of all the possible extensions I’ve been contemplating, I decided to implement the one to display Unisa textbooks first. One of the reasons was because the code Loot give me is an iframe link, and I could only find one stable MediaWiki extension to display iframes, so it was going to be either this or…

Luckily it installed without any problem. Here’s what I had to edit into the wiki to produce a book image:

<include iframe src=”″ width=”120″ height=”240″ scrolling=”no” marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″ frameborder=”0″ />

And here are two screens showing you what it looks like on my local machine (left) and on the live test site (right).

Unisa Textbooks

Yes, the same wiki markup produces different-looking images on different systems! Ideally I’d like to get rid of the border and scrollbars. I want the book images to look like the ones in the sidebar of this blog. Anyway, this is a start!