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Athabasca University e-Lab

Online Media Research

Current Research Projects in Online Media

Women’s processing of cinematic melodrama and their body esteem. 

Principal Researcher: Dr. Pierre Wilhelm, Asst. Prof., Business Communication.

Dr. Wilhelm’s research focuses on young female viewers’ sensitivity about their appearance.  It examines how their body esteem may be influenced by watching the complex onscreen interplay of actors, and by viewer response to dramatic narrative favouring a realistic or unrealistic ideal of feminine beauty.

In his research, he worked first with a group of Louisiana college students who viewed a short segment from the 2002 HBO movie Real Women Have Curves. They were asked to respond to how friends of Ana, the movie’s protagonist, show support for her realistic ideal of beauty, while Rosa, her mother, demonstrates nothing but contempt for her daughter's appearance.

In his current experiment, Dr. Wilhelm contrasts the responses of young women in Cuba (where women have never been exposed to commercial messages implying that their beauty is inadequate) with young women in Mexico (where women have been exposed all of their lives to such persuasive appeals).  The question he asks is how viewers in each country process one of two message orientations and respond to it.

One experimental group in Mexico and Cuba will witness Ana's boyfriend, father, grandfather, and colleagues approving of her realistic looks.  Another experiment group in Mexico and Cuba will witness Ana's mother's relentless criticism of her daughter's looks.  A melodramatic atmosphere underscores the changing interpersonal climate onscreen.

Once these responses have been gathered, Dr. Wilhelm will examine body esteem results in all four groups in an effort to understand whether and how relational knowledge that viewers relied on from their own lives might explain such outcomes as long processing effect and short body esteem effect.

Pierre Wilhelm earned his Ph.D. in mass communication at the University of Alabama in 1999.  He is assistant professor in business communication at Athabasca University.  He has given a number of conference presentations on this subject in Europe, Canada, the U.S. and Latin America.

Dr. Wilhelm’s other academic interests lie in using innovative design approaches in distance education.   He has published a much-cited article researching the implications of designing a course using learning objects.  He has taught a series of workshops on this subject in Latin America as a means of helping to initiate distance education programs in Mexico and in Cuba.  Dr. Wilhelm is one of the originators of the WriteSite at Athabasca University and will be advising the e-Lab at AU on the construction of Media Effects Workshops.

Reference: Wilhelm, P. and Wilde, R. (2005). Developing a university course for online delivery based on learning objects: From ideals to compromises. Open Learn. 20(1), 65–81.

Current Development Projects in Online Media

Open Studios

Funded by Alberta Foundation for the Arts -- $6000.

Project Leads: Kathy Williams, Academic Coordinator, Modern Languages and AU Art Committee and Dr. Evelyn Ellerman, Centre for Inter-disciplinary Studies.

This project has produced a series of video visits to selected artists engaged in the visual and tactile arts, all of whom have work in the University’s art collection. The project is part of a larger effort on the part of the University to make corporate art collections open and accessible to a larger audience. The University has digitized its entire art collection; these studio visits will supply enrichment to the online viewing of those works of art. The online collection of studio visits link to artists’ websites so that users will be able to build an expanded appreciation of their work. The studio visits have been mounted as a permanent digital collection on the Athabasca University Library Digiport Collections Open Studios website.

Zoomer Media Online Workshops for Seniors

Funded by Zoomer Media -- $190,000.

Project Lead: Dr. Evelyn Ellerman in collaboration with Bernice Rempel, President, Edmonton chapter of CARP – Canadian Association for Retired Persons; Vice Presidents Zoomer Media, Joan Jenkinson and Ross Mayot; and Writer for Health, Hiromi Goto.

The e-Lab at AU has developed an agreement to work with Zoomer Media to promote health and well-being for seniors online. This includes funding a Writer for Health program, the creation of several online workshops aimed at demystifying aspects of online communication for seniors, and writing a course called "Creating Life Histories".

Completed Research Projects in Online Media

Video Game Play as Nightmare Protection: A Preliminary Inquiry.

Jayne Gackenbach, Evelyn Ellerman and Christie Hall (2011). 21.4 Dreaming: 221-245

This research project investigated whether video game play could have a protective function for threat situations in dreams resulting from stress or trauma experienced while awake. Such dreams are often seen as nightmares. Previous research on gamers’ dreams, by Gackenbach and colleagues, found that gamers do not experience the nightmare in the same way as those who rarely game. While gamers might label a dream as a nightmare, they don’t report these dreams as especially frightening. Content analysis of these “nightmares” in gamers shows more aggression and less misfortune and threatening content than in dreams labeled nightmares by those who rarely game. In this study waking stresses and dreams were investigated in individuals who reported varying degrees of gaming and who are or have been in the military.

Completed Development Projects in Online Media:

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party: An Animated Scenario for Rhetoric Course Component.

Funded by Centre for Learning Design and Development through Community Adjustment Fund grant. -- $16,000

Project Lead: Dr. Evelyn Ellerman, Associate Professor, Communication Studies, with Stephen Addison, Centre for Learning Design and Development.

This animated element produced for insertion into an open learning object created previously with money from the Inukshuk Fund, gave us some experience in enriching an existing online course with animation. The idea was to personalize the notion of rhetorical theory using a theme used throughout the course of Alice’s travels through Wonderland.


Project Leads: Dr. Evelyn Ellerman, Assoc. Prof., Communication Studies and Dr. Karen Wall, Assoc., Prof., Communication Studies).

MediaCan is an extensive website of links gathered and categorized for the study of Canadian Media. The MediaCan website represents the program's commitment to benefit and link communities of scholars, professionals and students with an interest in the field. – originally Funded by CanWest Global - $100,000.

Canadian Film Online.

Funded by Heritage Canada -- $330,000.

Project Lead: Dr. Evelyn Ellerman, Assoc. Prof., Communication Studies with consultant Fil Fraser, Adjunct Professor, Communication Studies; Project Manager: Darren Harkness, Office of the Vice-President, Research.

This interactive, bilingual database of Canadian feature films produced since 1960 is a unique resource for the study of the Canadian film industry. Created with a grant from Heritage Canada and with the collaboration of the Toronto International Film Festival and Library and Archives Canada, Canadian Film Online offers users the opportunity to see the geographic connections between film funding and production, view dozens of interviews with key figures in the film industry, and explore hundreds of commentaries about Canadian film, while generating timelines and networks.