Young engineers educated in the university are increasingly concerned about their effectiveness in a world of rapidly shifting technologies, practices, and specialties. More and more, success in engineering relies not only on technical skills, but on leadership and entrepreneurship. What stable foundation for habits of thought and action is needed for the new engineer? How can engineers be effective in their action if there is too little time for them to plan or draw up a complete specification? How can engineers deal with a world that demands solutions to chronically intractable problems such as the crisis in software quality, the poor productivity of knowledge work, the lack of machine intelligence, and the difficulty in building dependable large systems?
Sense 21 is an interpretation and practice of engineering that begins from the premise that our engineering common sense is no longer powerful enough to enable us to build systems that successfully take care of people's concerns. Our common sense tells us that systems are "objects" (collections of components) acted upon by functions that create or modify objects. This project is exploring a new common sense, in which actions are the fulfillments of human commitments and systems are facilitators of human action. The new common sense offers new possilities for solutions of the "intractable" problems listed above and for increasing the effectiveness of the engineers we are now educating.
The foundation for the new common sense is a new set of habits for interpreting and observing human action as an engineer, grounded in a language action interpretation.
A course on this foundation for seniors has been offered each spring since 1993 under the title "CS 499 -- Designing a New Engineering Common Sense for the 21st Century". This course was recently enacted as a senior Engineering Course, "ENGR 490 -- Human Practices in Engineering Design". It will be offered under this heading for the first time in Spring 1997. A feature of this course is a major project in which students design an innovation and demonstrate that it has actually taken hold.