Reflection Toolkit

The Edinburgh Award

Edinburgh Award uses reflection to increase students’ development, confidence and impact.


The Edinburgh Award is a voluntary programme for students participating in co- and extra-curricular activities.  It provides formal recognition for students’ commitment and supports them through a reflective process that helps maximise their impact and learning. The Award comes in multiple versions, each supporting one particular type of co- or extra-curricular experience. Students engage in reflection individually and with their peers throughout, and are required to submit reflections at key stages.

Around 1000 students successfully complete the Edinburgh Award each year and student satisfaction is very high.  Student and staff’s feedback consistently and positively identifies the reflective process as fundamental to the Award’s impact and value, and a key aspect they will take away and apply in the future.


Takeaways may include:

  • Experiential learning provides significant opportunity for student development, especially through co- and extra-curricular activities.  Reflection is essential for ensuring students get the most value from these experiences, now and in the future.
  • While not all students will initially see the value in reflection providing a positive experience of reflection, where its benefits are clear, encourages students to see the value of reflection and encourages them to choose to use it themselves in the future.  Acknowledging and making use of other drivers to encourage initial student participation is essential.
  • Particularly for those new to reflection, providing a clear structure within which students can reflect and providing reflective prompts to guide students is critical.
Location of practice: Versions of the Edinburgh Award associated with co- and extra-curricular activities exist around the University.
Reflectors: Students of any level and any year group.
Facilitators: Staff across the University and Students’ Association, both academic and non-academic
Context: Students participating in co- and extra-curricular activities are able to opt into the Edinburgh Award to go through a supported and reflective process.  This process helps them to get the most out of the experience and to increase their personal impact.
Time commitment: 

Staff:  The commitment by staff running an individual version of the Edinburgh Award is focused on designing and running interactive sessions and answering student queries during the process.  On average this takes between 15 and 25 hours per year, although this can be greater for some of the larger versions of the Edinburgh Award (70+ students).

Students:  Students will typically spend 10 to 15 hours on the reflective process of the Edinburgh Award – this combines engagement with three input sessions, creating reflections and for some versions formal peer assessment (all versions of the Awards use informal peer assessment). This process wraps around the co- or extra-curricular activity which provides the opportunity for experience learning.

Context overview

The Edinburgh Award is a voluntary initiative that aims to:

  • recognise students’ involvement with co- and extra-curricular activities while at University
  • enhance the learning and development opportunity that these activities provide
  • encourage students to see the relevance of these activities in preparing them for their future.

Regardless of their starting point, the Edinburgh Award has been developed with the aim of helping students learn to excel, increase their impact, and extract the most value from their experiences, now and in the future.  Therefore, instead of having a fixed and defined standard for students to achieve, the Award facilitates and rewards an approach of:

  • identifying what it means to excel, both personally and for the current role/circumstance;
  • working purposefully and strategically towards this, translating and applying learning and abilities between situations;
  • maximising the positive impact on the surrounding context – people/organisation(s).

The Edinburgh Award wraps around a variety of co- and extra-curricular activities and is run by staff involved with those activities.  The Award is experience-centred and uses peer-to-peer sessions and discussions in combination to help students see the link between their experiences and their employability.

In the Award, learning from things that go wrong is as equally encouraged and celebrated as the learning that comes from success.


Reflection in context

Reflection is at the heart of the Edinburgh Award.  The Award is designed as an iterative reflective process that students can use again and again in the future for whatever role they find themselves in.

For all versions of the Edinburgh Award, students go through three stages – each prompts and requires reflection, and the whole Award process is encapsulated in an overall reflective cycle.

1.  At the start (Aspiring) The first stage of the Award focuses on students identifying and understanding what it means to excel in the relevant activity.  Students reflect on their own strengths relevant to this, decide their development priorities and plan steps towards these and how to have the most impact on those around them.
2.  Midway through (Developing) Students reflect on their progress and development so far.  They consider the relevant challenges and steps involved along the way, and reflectively revise their plans accordingly.  As with all stages, the reflections focus both on students’ own growth and on the impact they are having on others through their experiences.  Students must submit reflections at this stage.
3.  At the end (Owning)

Students reflect on how they have benefited and developed during the Award and what they have learned from the challenges they have experienced.  Students also reflect on the impact they have had on the people or organisation(s) around them during their experience. 

Students are supported to look to the future and reflect on how they can take the learning and development achieved during the Edinburgh Award and apply it to other contexts.  Students also practice articulating and selling their experiences in a positive and confident manner. 

Students must submit final reflections which consider their journey for each development priority and for their impact.

Introducing and implementing reflection

The Edinburgh Award provides a structured and guided process of reflection.  Students are provided with prompts and questions to support the reflective process ensuring that students will extract meaning from what they have done and consider future actions.

At the midway and final stages, the reflections must deal with a student’s identified development priorities/skills and their impact.  Students address three key points:

  • what progress they have made (if any)
  • what steps they have taken to try to improve their skills/impact
  • what they have learned from their experiences.

Students are provided guidance by the staff member facilitating their Edinburgh Award and via the Edinburgh Award website.  The website gives tips and guidance on reflecting, outlines the learning objectives/criteria for the reflective submissions, and provides example reflections.


Responses to reflection

Every year the Award has run about 90-95 % of completers report that the Award helped them develop new skills and increase their confidence.  Staff running the Award similarly feel that they have become more capable of engaging with students in a truly relevant way.  Reflection is acknowledged as one of the main reasons for this.

Moreover, students report that they are able to apply these reflective practices to other activities, allowing them to learn more deeply and gain more from their University experience.

”The entire self-reflective process helped me learn more about myself as a person, something which is quite hard to get done!” -  Award participant

”I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, and really improved in some target areas.  I feel I now have many more skills, and the ability to explain these to other people” - Award participant

Assessing reflection

Peer feedback is an essential part of the design of the Edinburgh Award.  It is done informally within the interactive sessions, but also formally in many versions of the Edinburgh Award which uses peer assessment and are supported to do so. 

Students are given clear guidance on forming their own reflections, the criteria that these should fulfil and how to assess and provide feedback on peers’ work.  Two criteria are used in assessing students’ reflections:

  • The ability to demonstrate reflective, analytical and critical thinking – How well does the reflection indicate the author learned from analysing or thinking critically and reflectively about their experiences?
  • The ability to demonstrate planned and purposeful development – How clear is it that the author has taken specific steps to try to improve their chosen skills and their impact, and has actively sought opportunities to improve, rather than simply waiting for opportunities to come to them?



The Edinburgh Award has performed well in student satisfaction every year and has grown steadily since its pilot to now around 1000 students receiving the Award per annum.  Even those students who do not complete the Award report positively on the reflective process and experience.  While many students opt into the Edinburgh Award for the formal recognition, at the end students consistently highlight that it is the reflective journey and process they have gone through which is the most important and impactful aspect.


Further information

Edinburgh Award website

Key contact

Edinburgh Award Team