Designers of intelligent tutoring systems (ITSs) have long been interested in delivering personalized teaching to individual students, typically by ensuring that the student receives content appropriate to their skills and knowledge. Nonetheless, a more holistic view on what constitutes good teaching practice has challenged whether this approach to user modelling is sufficient. Teaching is not only defined by what is taught, but also by how it is taught. In this paper, we demonstrate that exploratory design research can support this view by generating a more inclusive set of user attributes for purposes of user modelling. Through a case study, we show that design research for user modelling can function as a boundary object serving three important roles that underpin more specifically the design of user modelling and more broadly ITS design. First, design research can establish common ground by encapsulating domain knowledge in an accessible form. This can support diverse project stakeholders to make decisions on what is to be modelled. Secondly, design research can reveal a wide range of teaching and learning perspectives that in turn introduce transparency to the decision-making process of user modelling and provoke a sense of criticality and accountability amongst project stakeholders. Thirdly, design research can build new bridges between the design of the technology and the user model that underpins it. To this end, user attributes deemed important, yet too complex or cumbersome to develop, can become design principles in the context of the overall ITS design.
• We highlight how the creation of user models rarely incorporates assistance from the HCI community.
• We present a series of design activities intended to assist in the creation of a User Model.
• We examine how this design-oriented methodology creates a boundary object.
• We discuss the three benefits this boundary object brings to constructing user models, namely establishing common ground, creating transparency when considering possible alternatives and creating a springboard for new activities.