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Critical Analysis of Maple

Rhetoric and the World Wide Web
RHET – 3152 – 760
By: Janis Ollson

J. Ollson
Critical Analysis of Maple
In discussing online interactivity Warnick and Heineman state that it functions as a means of
activating user responses, and as a mode of address that can influence users, and can itself be rhetorical in
its effects. If interactivity activates a users response, then it is functioning as a mode for reciprocity,
which in Franklin`s opinion is required to build a community. Franklin advocates that community can
only be built on face-to-face interactions, which is contrary to Rheingold`s opinion. If Rheingold is
correct, and communities can be built online using interactive features to create reciprocity, then how
does the structure of those features contribute to its ability to construct a sense of community? I will
explore the interactive rhetorical features of the web site Maple, and how those features are structured
contribute to its ability to construct a sense of community. By analysing the web site I will show that by
simply offering interactivity user responses are not automatically activated, and the structure of those
interactive features can limit an artifact‟s ability to construct a sense of community.
The artifact I will be exploring is an online resource sharing community for Manitoba teachers,
and other related educational professionals called Maple, or Manitoba Professional Learning Environment
which can be found at Maple is organized into group settings, where an
educational professional can choose the groups they belong to based on their interests. These groups then
have resources attached to them for their members to view and discuss. The goal of Maple is to have a
place where Manitoban educators can meet online to collaborate. Maple provides an effective artifact to
analyze as it has several interactive rhetorical features available to users, such as discussion boards and
blogs, as well as other features that have not been made interactive, such as resource uploads and wikis.
To analyze Maple I used the cluster method of analysis. This method of Kenneth Burke consists
of charting key terms or ideas to see where a writer‟s emphasis is, and to analyze her motivations for
engaging in a rhetorical act (Goldrick-Jones). I used this method to dissect the motivations behind why


J. Ollson
Maple offers the rhetorical interactive elements that it does, why Maple limits the elements that it does,
and how those decisions affect its ability to construct an online community.
I found that the ultimate key term used on the Maple web site was the term „Maple‟, and the key
term linked with „Maple‟ was „resource‟. I found several terms associated with the term „resource‟ which
included „current‟, „educational‟, and „interactive‟. The term „resource‟ is used often, and is supported
with the following terms; materials, content, data, articles, lesson plans, and videos. Resource as a key
term is supported with other rhetorical acts such as providing users with a „library‟ and a „collection‟ to
store their resources in. The term „current‟ is used frequently as it applies to „resource‟, and is supported
with the terms; new, updated, recent, latest, upcoming, and announcement. Other rhetorical acts support
„current resources‟ such as providing users with a rich site summary feed, and earmarking a portion of the
web site for featured information. The resources provided are associated with the term „educational‟;
„educational‟ is used regularly, as well as referred to with similar words such as teaching, learning,
school, classroom, and curriculum. Other rhetorical acts that support the term „educational‟ are the fact
that the web site is sponsored by the Manitoba Department of Education, and the site‟s membership is
exclusive to educational professionals. Interactive was a term associated with „resources‟, and was
rhetorically represented with terms such as post, upload, link, comment, collaborate, share, blog, wiki,
publish, discuss, send, sort, find, entry, improve, search, and message. Other rhetorical acts that support
Maple as being interactive are the fact the users can discuss a topic of their choosing in any group they
belong to, and they can save and organize resources of interest to them.
Agons are what Burke describes as words that oppose the key terms found during cluster method
analysis (Goldrick-Jones). I found several agons on Maple. When analyzing a group I belonged to called
Career Development Group I found that the associated key term „current‟ was opposed by the rhetorical
act that prohibits group members from adding resources. When viewing the groups current activity I
found a blank slate, no new resources had been added. When viewing the groups discussion board I found
two posts that were questions posed by one member that had not be responded to. This was not untypical

J. Ollson
of other groups I studied. The term „interactive‟ found its agon in the fact that the rhetorical acts of
Maple‟s membership was restricted; only the group owner, which typically is the same man (Maple‟s
administrator) could add group resources; the capability of creating a blog or wiki for each group was
restricted to owner control; and permissions to share content had to be received through the site
administrator prior to uploading.
Through my exploration of the key terms and agons of the web site Maple, I found that the way in
which the rhetorical interactive features of this site was structured reduced its ability to construct a sense
of community. Although Maple expresses textually its goal of resource sharing and collaboration on its
home page “Maple is a place for creating and sharing resources, exchanging ideas and fostering
innovation in teaching and learning”, its restrictions on content strictly limit the user‟s ability to do so.
The only interactive features that were enabled for all Maple users was the ability to comment on
discussion boards and blogs, if a blog had been setup. The tight control over Maple‟s members‟
interactivity results from a desire to ensure that shared resources are educational in content, yet provide
enough interactivity that the site can be viewed as collaborate. Maple has through its exclusiveness, a
members only web site that requires approval of credentials and jurisdiction for joining, and a password
for accessing, has attempted to create an online community. Community is defined by Redish as “a group
of people who share common interests, activities, and initiatives; who communicate regularly; and who
derive benefit from their association”. Based on this definition one could argue that community has been
established on Maple, however the overall success of Maple as a community is evident in the fact that
discussion boards and blogs sit empty. Although educators can join this membership, the benefit they
derive from their association is limited as true collaboration and sharing are restricted. The structure of
Maple‟s interactive features has not activated a response from its members as Warnick and Heineman
suggest, and as a result have reduced the ability of this artifact to construct a sense of community.


J. Ollson
For interactivity of an artifact to activate a user‟s response, and thus to become a mode for
reciprocity and the formation of a community, the interactive features need to express the rhetorical act of
interactivity, not just the expression of its terms.


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Franklin, Ursula M. "The Real World of Technology, Part II." CBC Radio, 1989. web. 18 09 2014.
Goldrick-Jones, Amanda. n.d. Rhetoric and the World Wide Web - Burkeian Criticism -- Cluster Method.
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Heineman, Barbara Warnick & David S. Rhetoric Online - The Politics of New Media. Second. New
York, n.d. web. 15 09 2014.
Redish, Janis (Ginny). "Yours, mine, and ours - Connecting ourselves and the communities we belong
to." Presentation. 2004. web. 18 02 2014.
Rheingold, H. Vers. Introduction. n.d. The Virtual Community. web. 16 09 2014.